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Sharing Culture: Tribes, Coupeville join in celebrating annual water festival

Racers make their way around a buoy in Penn Cove near Coupeville Wharf Saturday during the Penn Cove Water Festival.  - Megan Hansen photo
Racers make their way around a buoy in Penn Cove near Coupeville Wharf Saturday during the Penn Cove Water Festival.
— image credit: Megan Hansen photo

Rain or shine, sleek tribal canoes glided through Penn Cove Saturday during the Penn Cove Water Festival.

Racers from tribes all over the Pacific Northwest gathered to take part in the annual festival, which aims at maintaining a cultural relationship with Pacific Northwest natives.

It’s really about a cultural exchange and understanding, said Vicky Reyes, festival president.

At the beginning of the festival, tribal leaders shared information about their culture by performing a song to kick off the festival.

A tribal prayer was performed prior to the races.

Clouds burned off in the early afternoon, giving visitors a sunny chance to watch racing, which went from the wharf to the boat launch.

People watched from all over the area including the wharf, viewing decks on Front Street, along the walking path and boat launch.

“I thought the festival was wonderful,” said organizer Kyle Waterman. “There was great attendance.”

“We had a great time. It was another great festival.”

Races including single-person entries as well as multi-person entries.

“I love the camaraderie of the races,” Reyes said. “They (the different tribes) seem to enjoy the day with each other.”

“The races themselves are very exciting.”

Cash prizes were awarded to the top winners. Local businesses and groups sponsored individual races, which covered the cost of the cash prizes.

Around $4,000 in prizes is awarded.

One new feature to the races this year was that Island County Historical Museum created new first place trophies, a tradition lost some time ago.

First place winners received a commemorative hand-carved paddle as a trophy.

It takes a lot to put on the event each year, Reyes said.

The cost to put on the event is close to $30,000. Funds are collected through fundraisers, such as the salmon taco booth at the event, community and tribal grants as well as countless in-kind donations.

In addition to the races, there are educational booths, children’s activities, tribal entertainment and booths offering tribal wares.

Reyes said her favorite part of the festival is the children’s activities, which encourages youth to visit the various educational booths.

They receive a “passport” and get a stamp for each place they visit. Once completed, they turn it in for a prize.

Each portion of the festival takes manpower to plan and operate.

“We’re hoping to get more public involvement next year,” Reyes said.

She joined the festival board after moving to Whidbey Island in 2010 and experiencing the event with her granddaughters.

“We all just enjoyed it all so much,” she said.

Later Reyes said she saw a newspaper article saying the festival might not happen if new volunteers didn’t come forward.

She stepped up as board treasurer and is now acting president.

The first Coupeville Festival with Native American Canoe Races took place in 1930, organized by a Coupeville businessman to draw more tourists to Whidbey Island.

The event grew over the years, offering more activities, some of which still take place today.

Members of the community were baking bread days prior to the event to offer the loaves as part of a traditional welcoming ceremony.

During World War II the event stopped and was forgotten for a number of years. More than two decades ago it was resurrected.

Organizers are already reviewing this year’s event and making note for the next festival, slated for Saturday, May 10, 2014.

Each year the water festival date is dependent on Penn Cove’s tide charts.

 

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